Did you know that there are more Internet users in China than the entire population of the United States combined with the population of Russia, Japan, and Mexico? With all of those people online, the Chinese government censors what the people see. In order to protect their people from harmful information, the Communist government restricts the people from an open and full version of the Google search engine, Facebook and Twitter, The New York Times, and even Peppa Pig.
Why should the church be paying attention to the Internet usage and censorship that’s taking place in China? Why does this really matter?
China Needs Jesus More than China Needs Google
With over 802 million surfing the Internet on a daily basis, China has the highest population of Internet users in the world. However, there online experience is not the same as most other people around the world. The Chinese government restricts what the people of China can view online. They are not allowed to use Google as a search engine nor can they interact on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Chinese government restricts the information that the people can receive as they seek protect their people from harmful messages in form of religious, social, political, and pop-culture ideas.
Make no mistake about it, Google wants China and the people of China want Google. With an estimated 1.92 billion people out of the total 4.1 billion worldwide Internet users are expected to make an online purchase in 2019, there is an ever expanding market to capture among the people of China. It doesn’t take a financial trade expert to see that this is a big deal centered on money. However, what the church must realize is that while the ongoing negotiations and discussions take place between China and major tech companies about how to work within the nation’s Internet policies—the church must pay close attention in order to be prepared to use the available technologies to deliver the gospel to China. The people of China need Jesus far more than they need Google. For the church, it’s not about money—it’s about good news for unreached people. The largest religious view in China presently is non-religious (43.5% of the 1.4 billion people). There is only 9.2% of the total population of China professing to be Christian. The nation of China needs Jesus.
Freedom of Speech Is Not the Same as Freedom of Search
While Google wants China, the tech giant is not interested in delivering Jesus to China. That’s not their goal. It’s not the goal of Wikipedia, Twitter, or Facebook either. They are all interested in the available financial market opportunities. As Google provides a search product for the people of China that filters out everything that’s prohibited such as competing religious views, political ideas, pop-culture trends, and other social information that the leadership of China forbids—Google will work within their system in order to capture the financial opportunities. Why is this important?
Interestingly enough, such blocking is not the result of a Communist government working to control their people, but instead it’s based solely upon the opinion of the major social media companies. In other words, they’re in control of what is and what isn’t considered harmful or offensive. Is that really free speech? No, but the freedom of speech does not equate to the freedom to search or speak on social media platforms.
The church must continue to speak up and speak out online and in the social media spaces, however, we must be prepared for further censorship and restrictions as the progressive liberal views of our nation continue to spread. Until then, while the daylight remains, we must capitalize on these opportunities and continue to spread the hope of Jesus and the good news of the gospel to all peoples in order for the whole world to know the joy of Christ. The church cannot trust Google to be the megaphone for the gospel around the world. We can use technology while we can, but we must go and preach the gospel and plant churches in dark regions around the world regardless of what help tech companies provide along the journey.
Suppose you were chatting over coffee with another friend at a local coffee shop and you’re asked a simple question: “How are you monitoring what your children are watching online?” How would you answer that question? Could you answer that question? With the complexities of our digital world, you may have just handed your child a smartphone (that you pay the bill for) and simply given up on any ability whatsoever to monitor, control, and protect your children from the online world. Not only is that irresponsible, it’s extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of your children. So, the good news is that it’s becoming easier to oversee your home digitally.
Christians are called to the work of disciple-making in the work of parenting (Deut. 6). Therefore, to turn children over to smartphones without proper oversight is to be lazy-minded in the approach and can lead to massive disasters along the way. Take charge as a parent, learn how to navigate this complex digital world, learn how to use new tools, and most of all, disciple your children in the gospel (Eph. 6:4). That being said, I think it’s unwise to demonize the use of technology—including smartphones and video games. To suggest that people are less holy because they like to use a specific technology is not a wise approach or honest evaluation. However, it’s how one uses such technology that matters. It can be used for the glory of God and enjoyment in this life, or it can become a vicious god. It’s essential to control your technology or your technology will control you.
Like it or not, your children spend a lot of time online. According to one study, teens are spending nine hours online per day. They do so for school homework, for gaming with their friends, for relaxation, for music, for TV and movies, and to chat with their friends. So, it’s not going away anytime soon unless you’re planning to move to a remote village in a third world country, but surprise—the Internet is often there too. So, let’s face the facts—children and adults spend a lot of time online these days.
All of the statistics point to the massive rise in the amount of time spent online through a smartphone device. According to one study, the time spent online across platforms varies, depending on the specific apps that are being used.
YouTube = 40 minutes per day.
Twitter = 1 minute per day.
Instagram = 15 minutes per day.
Facebook = 35 minutes per day.
Snapchat = 25 minutes per day.
That’s a lot of time spent on phones, but tragically, it’s the lack of accountability and monitoring regarding how teens are using phones that we should be concerned about. According to the math, if a child receives a smartphone at 13 years of age, if these numbers hold true, they will watch 1,216 hours of YouTube clips and shows by the time they graduate high school. That’s way more time with complete strangers than with one-to-one time with their parents. So, who is discipling and training the children these days? That doesn’t take into consideration the whopping amount of hours chatting on social media with friends and watching movies on Netflix.
The dangers are real. Predators lurk online and seek to gain the influence of your children. But, let’s imagine a world without predators (one that doesn’t exist this side of heaven), but let’s not forget the billions of dollars of marketing money spent to directly influence and attract your children to make decisions about life and how they will spend their time and money which drastically shapes their worldview.
Recently, Snapchat, a rising star in the social media world among teens, has now released a porn channel that will allow people to view online porn through the Snapchat app. Cosmo After Dark is a new channel on Snapchat’s “discover” section that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. According to Snapchat, this new feature is “an X-rated weekly edition that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. and is exclusively dedicated to all things hot and horny.” Here’s the danger, it’s in the hands of your children and it contains, at this point, no parental controls. Jenny Rapson over at For Every Mom, writes, “remember there are not and never have been parental controls on Snapchat. There is no way for you to keep this from your kids.”
First of all, tools are not full-proof systems that will prevent any and all dangers from your children. If you put a murderer in prison, if he desires to murder, he will find a way to do it without knives and guns. If you put a smartphone in the hands of a depraved teenager, if he or she is looking for a crack in the system, no tool will prevent them from seeing pornography or from engaging in other sinful behaviors. Each parent has to monitor their own children and in some cases, the parents may need to be willing to take away all online privileges from their children when they cannot be trusted to use them for good.
If you are interested in using good tools to monitor, I recommend the Disney Circle system which can be purchased online or in some big box stores like BestBuy. It’s super easy to setup and it’s also super easy to monitor your children’s time online. The system allows you set on and off times for your children’s devices for Internet usage, pause the Internet, and control the online usage of your entire family on a device-by-device basis or the entire house as a whole. It also allows you to restrict specific apps and websites. Straight out of the box, the Disney Circle system has built-in filters that can be used for your children that prevent many of the mistake views of pornography that often entrap children once they see it for the first time. Once you start using it, you will find ways to customize your family’s use of the Internet while tracking where they spend the majority of their time.
One of the reasons I like the Disney Circle system is that it’s designed for the non-tech user who doesn’t understand how to use some of the more advanced filters on the market. Some of the features it offers are nice, including the off feature, pause feature, and the reward feature (where you reward your child with more time if you desire)—and all of this monitoring is done straight from the Disney Circle app that you have on your phone. What about that friend who visits your child in your home and brings their device with them? Through the control panel app on your phone, you can recognize their device, and add it to your filtering system too.
For a monthly fee, you can have your Disney Circle cloud follow your child outside of your home to school and other friend’s homes where the same restrictions, filters, and Internet on-off schedules will apply. So, take back control of your home and use good tools that enable you to better monitor and protect your children online.
Don’t be a naive parent. Know what your children are watching and how they’re interacting online. After all, it’s your responsibility.
On Monday, it seemed that much of life was paused for the rare opportunity to see a full (or almost full depending on your region) eclipse. The event included the moon passing between the earth and the sun—known as a solar eclipse. It was a rare event, and one that was celebrated by many people who took off work and in many cases, traveled out of town to be in the direct path of the dance between the sun and the moon.
What else happened on Monday other than every store within driving distance selling out of eclipse glasses? Something else occurred that we should pay close attention to. According to Netflix, the eclipse caused a 10% drop in their overall streaming service on Monday. Netflix is not just an app on your phone or a service for your television, it’s a very successful company. In 2016, they brought in $8.83 billion dollars in revenue—half of which came from American customers. Therefore, when a sudden 10% drop happens, it gains the attention of the entire company.
The following tweet was sent out as a humorous way to acknowledge the eclipse frenzy on Monday, but embedded in that tweet was a subtle message that we shouldn’t overlook too quickly.
Hey, just wondering why 10% of you chose to watch a giant rock cover a giant ball of gas when I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THERE FOR YOU.
Apparently this rare solar event caused 10% of Netflix’s customers to take to the skies rather than their screens. Netflix noticed this and suddenly called out for their audience’s attention. What lessons can we learn from the Netflix eclipse on Monday?
The world (take Netflix as an example) refuses to see such events as a sparkle of God’s glory in creation. It’s more than a giant rock passing by a ball of gas. It points to the glory and sovereignty of God.
We are too screen happy in our present culture. How many interesting things are we missing on a regular basis because we’re looking down at our screens rather than looking up at creation?
Has fictional life on a screen in form of a movie or television show replaced the thrill of real life?
Could it be that our time spent on electronic devices is completely out of hand? If you think so, what exactly are you doing to monitor and manage your online and offline time in your home? What about your children, what ways are you monitoring them and encouraging them to look up and enjoy life?
Consider the way in which God’s Word speaks about creation pointing to God and bringing him glory:
In Genesis 1:1, we see the Bible beginning with an emphatic declaration of God as the Creator of all things. In Job 12:7-10, God and his sovereign work is put on display. According to Paul in Romans 1:20, the whole world has become witnesses to the glory of God in creation to the point that nobody can deny it. Interestingly enough, in John 1:3 and Colossians 1:15-17, Jesus is given credit as the God of creation.
As we continue to flip the pages of the Bible, we find these important words in Psalm 19:1 as the Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” On Monday, the glory of God was put on display in a masterful way. Suddenly, people took time to put away their screens, their phones, their tablets, and every other electronic device that demands so much attention in order to look up to the sky. As the sun and moon crossed paths, people beneath on the sod of earth were amazed. God uses his creation to display his glory and we should witness it with a sense of amazement. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace describes a time when he witnessed the eclipse of the moon. He wrote the following in his diary for July 30, 1776:
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great, O Lord, are thy works! With what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfill their courses. . . . I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse. The horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, sin was the cause—my sins—yet I do not hate sin or loathe myself as I ought.”
How much more of God’s creation and glory is missed on a daily basis because people aren’t looking? It’s no secret that we are all hooked on technology. Isn’t it about time that we ask ourselves what we’re missing as we binge another series on Netflix? If you drifted off to sleep on Monday thinking about that cool moment that you shared with your family, why not plan on having more of those moments—away from the screens? Consider what Paul Tripp said in his book, Dangerous Calling, “All creation is meant to be a finger pointing us to ultimate glory, the only glory that can ever satisfy the human heart, the glory of God.” 
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 49.
Earlier in the week, I wrote an article titled, “3 Ways Social Media Is Hurting Your Local Church.” In that particular article, I focused on the negative aspects of digital life that actually causes us to be less social than we realize. Today, I want to look at ways in which social media can help your local church. In order for a church to benefit from social media, the church must have a plan, a team, and everyone must know the difference between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—and when it’s appropriate to use each specific platform. There are many aspects that are worthy of a conversation, but I want to focus on three main issues that are both practical and theological in nature. For starters, we must all recognize that social media is not all bad—in fact it can be quite profitable.
Information, Information, Information
What are the three main rules of real estate? You know the drill—right? When it comes to discipleship, much of our spiritual development centers upon getting the right information. First of all, the Word of God is central. A steady diet of God’s Word is necessary for spiritual growth. Beyond the Scriptures, we should be reading good material, good authors, good commentaries, and yes—good blogs. According to one source, “By 2017, there will be more internet traffic than all prior internet years combined.” At the mid-year mark of 2017, we can certainly see that online activity shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it appears to be increasing.
The digital world is like a large bowl of spaghetti. Anyone can create a website, a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, or a Pinterest board in just a matter of a few minutes. There is a basic need, from the beginning, to learn how to digitally organize your pixels and words into a usable form. When done properly, good information can be found at the tip of your fingers almost instantly. For instance, just tonight our media team ran our first Facebook Live of our mid-week Bible study. Within a few minutes, the video had been viewed over 500 times. Many of those people were friends of our members in the community. Yet, right there on their smart phone, a live session from our church appeared instantly on their screen offering immediate opportunities for discipleship.
Through social media, you can build good friends online, follow good accounts, and spend time reading good posts, updates, pages, articles, and books that you find linked from those particular sources. Today’s ebook world is filled with many opportunities to advance your spiritual progress. Just this morning I received a message from 9Marks about a free ebook offering. Following good accounts makes a difference.
Do you have an app on your smart phone for your Bible? Did you know that with the push of a button, you can post a helpful Bible verse to Facebook or Twitter? The very best method of evangelism is face-to-face over coffee or just sitting in a living room with an open Bible. However, one really good way that your local church can use social media is in the process of evangelism.
As a young adult, I was converted to Christianity while listening to a sermon online. Paul Washer has personally discussed with me testimonies received at HeartCry regarding countless people who have been converted by listening to his sermon “The Most Shocking Youth Sermon” online. The fact is, the vehicle of the internet is useful in delivering the gospel to large groups of people. Many of those people may live in the neighborhood around your church campus.
That being said, these connections with people don’t just happen. Aside from an intentional approach to social media—people will not see or interact with your church’s online material. Just because your church has a website and a Facebook page doesn’t mean anyone in your community knows about it. People in your church have to share content and invite people to like your church’s page before anyone will know it exists. Good content that’s well prepared, graphically appealing, and doesn’t appear as a manipulative scheme generally works best. How many people do you know who married someone they met online? That almost never happened at the beginning of the technology boom. Now, more than ever before, we are hearing statistics of people who have come to faith as a result of a sermon they heard online.
According to one study, “40% of global internet users, or more than 1 billion people, have bought products or goods online.” If that’s true of sales in general, imagine what the church search statistics look like. Where will you be on Saturday morning at 10:00am? Years ago, the most popular time for churches to go out into the community and engage people with the gospel and information about their church was by doing cold-door knocks in neighborhoods on Saturday morning. Although statistically speaking, we’re told that method doesn’t work today, I tend to believe that it works better than we think.
However, moving beyond what works to what’s most efficient—internet marketing on social media is very effective in getting information about your church before people’s eyes. With just a few dollars each week, you can place a really good advertisement before people directly in your community who may not have a local church they’re attending. This could be good for evangelism and for spreading the word about your church. The Millennial generation (born approximately 1980-1997) will hardly buy gas at a specific gas station unless they’ve visited their website first—much less attend a church before checking them out online. Your church’s social media presence really does matter.
You may not need a full-time staff person designated to managing your online presence, but it is something that a good volunteer team could oversee. Facebook now has over 1.94 billion monthly users, and most of your community is active on Facebook or another social media platform. Have a designated person who responds to messages and feedback given from the social media channels.
Don’t under-sell the value of social media for your local church. If you’re over 60, don’t talk down about the use of social media. Find value in it and explore opportunities to engage. If you’re under 40, don’t place too much emphasis on social media. Balance is the key with social media. Don’t allow it to control your life. Organize your time and tools. While we certainly shouldn’t go too far by expecting social media to do all of our discipleship, evangelism, and marketing—it can be harnessed to accomplish some of these important duties in a much more efficient manner. Last of all, consider sharing good content with others—especially information from your local church—especially the good news of Jesus. If your church has a poor online presence, consider volunteering your time and help your church reach more people in your community.
This past week, during the G3 Conference, I was asked a question that we should not overlook too quickly. I was asked, “What catalysts do you believe have led to the resurgence of sound biblical theology?” That question could be answered in several different ways from a variety of different angles, but I believe one of the key factors that has led to this resurgence, especially among young people, is the boom of information technology.
The Technology of the Past
During the era of Martin Luther, there was no such thing as social media (as we know it today). There was no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. Most written communication had to be done by hand. However, just as the Reformation sparked in Germany, the wave of Gutenberg’s printing press had taken off and was poised to print and distribute the works of the Reformers far and wide. As we look back at history, it’s almost like it was charted out and planned to happen that way. As we consider the sovereignty of God and His providence that governs the world—it’s clear that God was designing the pages of history.
Not only did students of Luther have his Ninety-Five Theses printed and distributed, but following Luther’s conversion a short time later, his books would be printed and spread all across Europe. What was not possible just a short time earlier was now driving the Reformation. Gutenberg’s press was serving as the vehicle of the Reformation. The flame was spreading and Gutenberg’s press was the catalyst.
The Technology of the Present
As we look at the modern resurgence of biblical theology, a high view of God, and a robust understanding of sovereign grace, in many ways the new advancements of information technology are being harnessed to spread the truth across the world. Many hours would go into the printing of a sermon, a tract, or a book in Luther’s day. It would be written down on paper by hand and then a printer would set the moveable type of a printing press in place, and with detailed precision, the ink would be stamped onto each page in order to compile a book. After further advancements, the press would become more efficient, but the process still took precious time. Then, after the printing phase ended, the distribution phase started. There was no UPS or FedEx in those days.
Today, an author can write an article and within a few minutes, he can publish it to the entire world by pressing one single button on a blog site. With the advancements of the printing industry, the publishing and distribution phases move at rapid pace in comparison to Luther’s day. We have moved quickly past the radio era into a new phase of technology that allows the end user the option of not only listening live, but also prerecorded media. What was not possible in the radio era is now possible in our video era as sermons can now be streamed through smart devices in video format. Modern technology, in many ways, has been used as a catalyst to spread truth and teach good biblical theology.
As we consider how primitive technology was in Luther’s day and how limited we were just 50 years ago, we should praise God for the tools and advancements that are available to us now. In many ways, our sanctification can benefit from the use of these technological advancements. In Luther’s day they were fighting to get the Bible printed for the people in their own language. Today, we can press a button on a screen and parse verbs in the original language with Logos Bible Software, read commentaries, and listen to sermons related to the verses we’re studying.
As we consider these modern tools and advancements, let us with glad hearts be good stewards of God’s blessings.
We enjoy technology on a daily basis. In fact, we are enjoying it now through the Internet by means of this blog. However, I’ve noticed that many times technology can create problems rather than delivering solutions. Technology and the church have a love-hate relationship. For information, technology is a good thing, but for community, it often isolates us and limits real relationships.
We have a class at our church for prospective members which is four weeks long and provides a presentation of the gospel and an overview of our distinct marks as a church. Each time the class rolls around, I begin class #2 on the church by talking about technology and the church.
I typically begin by asking how many people remember the old TV show – The Brady Bunch? This is a question that typically reveals ages fairly quickly. However, even the younger generation has often seen an old rerun on TV Land at some point. The show begins with a mixed family all appearing in little screens (boxes) on one big screen and while the theme song is being played, they are waving, conversing, and communicating with one another. As I point out – this was long before the boom of technology and the modern invention of Skype and FaceTime. What they were unable to do in reality – we enjoy in our present day.
The same thing is true regarding the old cartoon – The Jetsons. Although we are not able to fly around in our personalized spacecraft, we can talk to one another through computer screens and personal mobile phones. Who doesn’t love that type of technology? When we take trips away from our family members, we can see them and talk to them while being across the ocean. This is fascinating technology.
We live in a time in church history where steeples are being replaced with iPads and the presence of the preaching pastor is replaced by an image on a screen. The digital revolution has come and we continue to see the expansion of new ideas and methods that are largely influenced and updated by technology. However, as we think honestly and critically about the church, we can see that technology has many limitations.
The Limitation of Physical Presence
Some churches are going the e-church route with Internet campuses, websites, smart phone applications, and live stream preaching technologies that provide them the opportunities of being more mobile and less committed to a physical campus. I do think it’s important to disconnect the church from the building, but in a real sense, a physical presence is necessary in order for a church to exist.
In the pages of the early church, we see that the people gathered together. In fact, if you look at Acts 2, you will notice the word “together” is often repeated in the description of the newly founded church. Two times it’s used before the salvation of the 3,000 souls and two times it’s used after the explosion of growth. The point is clear – they made it a point to be together. In fact, they wanted to be together.
The Limitation of Personal Touch
When I travel for ministry, I often find my family and I gathered together on a screen. However, no matter how many conversations we have in the FaceTime world of technology with the ability to blow kisses, see facial expressions, and talk to one another while smiling at one another – there is something special about being in the presence of each other at the airport. My children often run and embrace me with my youngest clinging to my leg and hugging me. What technology could do in providing the physical sight of my family, it failed to provide personal touch.
We have a young couple who is presently going through our membership class who have recently moved here from Spain. We’ve had discussions about the proper way of greeting in Spain within their church being a kiss on both sides of the cheek. They have explained how hard it has been to transition away from that personal touch and embrace with fellow Christians in their new church culture in the United States. Personal touch matters. In Romans 16:16, we see Paul write these words, “Greet one another with a holykiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” He repeats these same words in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The point is clear – the early church greeted one another and there was a physical presence and personal touch among the people. This was a means of encouragement to one another in the midst of difficult times, a harsh culture, and an often unforgiving world.
The Limitation of Actual Community
In Hebrews 10, we see the important warning about neglecting to assemble together with the church. Community is important. If you look at Hebrews 10:24-25, you notice that the purpose of assembly was far more than filling a seat in the worship service. It involved stirring one another up in good works and encouraging one another. This takes place through physical presence in assembly and personal touch in greeting as well as intimate prayers, preaching, and other aspects of assembly.
In a real sense, we can gather as a church in the world of technology. Our presence can be visible through the online digitized representation of our physical body. We can use technology to talk to one another through the screen. We can assemble and hear a sermon preached through the lens of an iPad. We can have online giving setup and contribute to one account that will be used for operating costs of our ministry and missions. We can pray together. Much of what we do as a church can be accomplished through technology, but at the end of the day, there will be massive limitations.
As I teach the membership class, I like to propose the following question:
As you can see, we are sitting in one of the oldest parts of our church campus. We are a 173 year old church and we have a campus that is pieced together with buildings from different eras. Maintaining a church campus is not for wimps – especially an older campus. Last year we spent $70,000 on HVAC upgrades. There is constantly a need that arises from parking lot holes to paint on the walls and it can be quite costly. What if we all decided to liquidate our assets as a church and bank a few million dollars and transition our ministry into an e-church where we meet online? What if we meet online and do everything we typically do on a Sunday and Wednesday, and then meet once per month in a local school gymnasium for worship, the observance of the ordinances, and a fellowship meal – would this be sufficient? Think about how we could use the money for missions and church planting. What do you think?
Not one time have I had someone who actually took the bait and went with the idea. Everyone, no matter what age and how tech savvy they are, they see the holes in technology. They sense a need for real community. They understand the limitations of technology and the church assembly and fellowship. Just last week when I posed that question in our membership class, one of the men going through the class said the following:
My vote for an online campus is no. I’ve been responsible for launching them and know that it is an easy way for people to halfway go to church. They don’t engage and get to actually have human interaction. I’ve actually grown to despise many things that technology brings to a worship service. It easily becomes all about the tech and “what can we do?”
While we can continue to use technology within the church for the glory of God, we must be willing to admit that technology comes with a definite set of limitations. Although the world of technology will continue to expand and broaden into the future, we will never see a day where technology replaces the personal touch, presence, and interaction of a group of redeemed sinners assembling for worship and fellowship.